Allegan County News & Union Enterprise

APS parent demands resignation of school board member

By Leslie Ballard

An Allegan Public School parent and PTO President demanded the resignation of school board member Jennifer Nicholson during the public comment segment of the June 13 board meeting.
Meghan Jones contends that Nicholson has been leaking information that includes board documents, student information, and e-mails to Chelsea Zoll, who had earlier petitioned for the nonrenewal of Supt. James Antoine’s contract and is attempting to have Board President Vicki Knuckles recalled in the upcoming election.
Jones cited the five principles for school board members established by the Michigan Board of Education and described how Nicholson had violated each one, referring to e-mails parents had shared with her and to social media posts in some cases.
“The drama that has been accumulating over the last couple of months has put a huge shadow over our district,” said Jones. On a Facebook post, she also asked parents not to believe everything they read and to “be diligent with your research about what is posted out there.”
Nicholson attended the April 25 Allegan Election Commission hearing regarding the petition to gather signatures to recall Knuckles and spoke in favor of the recall. This appears to be a violation of the Michigan Association of School Boards’ Board of Education Governance Standards.
Nicholson was formally censured by the board in September 2021 for responding inappropriately to a social media post.
Because she is an elected official, she cannot be removed from the board except by recall, and it is too late to petition for recall prior to the November election. Her current term expires this year, and it is not known if she will run for re-election.
“I’m not asking – I’m demanding,” Jones said in closing. Her comments were greeted with applause from audience members.
Zoll then took the podium and stated, “I’m going to answer Meghan’s bull####.” She denied Nicholson’s giving her confidential information but instead claimed that “people contact me because people know I advocate for students who have been abused and students who have been bullied and terrorized by other students and also by staff members.”
Addressing Nicholson, she went on to say “there is absolutely no reason for you to step down” and called Jones’ demand a ”witch hunt.” She then went on to say that she has “plenty of proof for every single thing I’ve put on social media.” In reviewing the posts, no evidence was documented.
After she finished speaking, she said “and I will clap for myself” and did so.
Parent Crystal Prymula then spoke, thanking Antoine and the board for the help they provided to her son about whom she had spoken to them earlier. “I brought a complaint publicly, so I wanted to thank them publicly,” she said. Prymula said that Antoine was “absolutely amazing” in helping resolve the situation with her son, and the school responded within 24 hours.
She also supported Jones’ demand for Nicholson’s resignation, expressing how uncomfortable she and her daughter felt after Nicholson approached them following a previous board meeting, asking the daughter several times about her etched eyebrow. Nicholson gave them her Pure Romance business card, which, in addition to her behavior, Prymula saw as “very unprofessional, very inappropriate.” According to her board member bio, Nicholson is an independent consultant for Pure Romance, which sells adult products.
She finished by clarifying that she had reached out to Zoll at one point but became unhappy with her actions, including her attempt to get Prymula to sue APS, and disavowed any support for her.
At the beginning of the meeting, Nicholson asked board members if they had received subpoenas as she had. The other board members indicated that they didn’t know what she was referring to as they reported not receiving one. When she told them she had received it five days earlier, Knuckles asked her why she had not notified the rest of the board, but Nicholson said she assumed everyone had received a similar subpoena.
The nature of the subpoena, along with a citizen’s (Zoll’s) social media posts, makes it appear that a board member shared information from an e-mail Antoine sent the seven-member board and asks directly for board level communications. The plaintiff determines who is subpoenaed.
“A school board member’s authority is in the board room,” said Antoine in an interview after the meeting. Instances of staff being tried on social media does not allow the superintendent to conduct an appropriate investigation and protect the rights of the individuals involved, he observed.
At the end of the business meeting, Knuckles asked each board member questions about whether confidential board business had been shared with members of the public. Each responded with a negative. She pressed Nicholson regarding Jones’ allegations, and Nicholson replied “I’m not sharing information that can’t be…everything can be pulled up on FIOA [sic]. I mean, just because I have the information does not mean that I’m giving it out.”
At that point, Zoll interrupted the meeting, and when Knuckles told her she was out of order and asked her to be quiet, she responded, “I’m not out of order,” to which several board members disagreed. “Just because you have the gavel doesn’t give you the legal standing. You can’t make me sit here and be quiet nor can you make me leave the building,” she said to Knuckles. Board Vice President Nathan Kelly stated that that was incorrect. Knuckles then asked Zoll where she got her information, and she responded, “That’s none of your damned business.” Knuckles again reminded her not to use profanity. “None of your business and I don’t have to tell you,” reiterated Zoll.
After the meeting adjourned, Zoll said to the board members, “You’d better watch out.”
According to Brad Banasik, J.D., Legal Counsel and Director of Labor Relations/Policy for the Michigan Association of School Boards, “If any of the speakers commit a “breach of the peace” at the meeting, the president may take steps to exclude them from the meeting…the Michigan courts have opined that it [breach of the peace] constitutes seriously disruptive conduct involving abusive, disorderly, dangerous, aggressive or provocative speech and behaviors tending to threaten or incite violence. These cases clarify that, under Michigan law, a “breach of the peace” goes well beyond acceptable behavior.”
The public may speak during the public comment period but not during the business meeting unless invited to do so by the Board President.
Banasik also said that boards have the right to have law enforcement escort a speaker who commits “breach of the peace” from the building.

2 Replies to “APS parent demands resignation of school board member

  1. This individual (Zoll) seems like a nut job! I hope she was escorted out of the room. With the profanity and unnecessary behavior she has no reason to be in any respectful space. Not to mention a THREAT in a school meeting. If a “witch hunt” (Zolls words) were to happen she better “watch out” (Zolls words). She’d be first on the list🤷🏻‍♀️

    1. Profanity is a moral belief. It’s just words like apple or wall. You just choice for it to hold some inappropriate meaning. Sounds like a you problem.

Leave a Reply to Alice K Cancel reply